Last night we had dinner at a tofu restaurant with our friends Yukiko, Gustav, and his brother Magnus. Yukiko had been working in Cambodia for an NGO and in Jordan before that. We’re glad to have her back before she returns to saving the world in another country. Gustav is visiting from his native Sweden. Both Yukiko and Gustav were classmates of ours in England, so it was a reunion of sorts.
We saw Yukiko just a few weeks ago but we hadn’t seen Gustav since 2003. He was in town to see his old Zen master, who at 89 won’t be around much longer. Unlike most Swedes, Gustav and his brother are vegetarians and, even more unusually, they drink very little alcohol. So T had the foresight to reserve a table at Sora no Niwa, a restaurant that specializes in tofu cuisine.
Sora no Niwa
We tried several dishes. My favorite was the mochi-like roasted soy cakes, and a soy-sesame concoction that was pure yummy goodness. The most interesting was a soymilk dish that was simmered in a wooden box at our table for 25 minutes. It curdled into a warm silky smooth light tofu that was as satisfying as it was delicate.
Even for a health food aficionado like me, I’m amazed at the variety of delicious creations that can be made from soy. This kind of restaurant, which is somewhat common in Japan, would do spectacularly well back home on the West Coast. With so many vegetarians in California and Oregon, who crave something more than tofu dogs and garden burgers, tofu chefs would be in high demand. Of course, there were many dishes that incorporated meat and fish. So, if you are in fact vegetarian I recommend that you bring along someone who can read Japanese since the menu is entirely in Japanese.
The prices were quite reasonable. Even with two drinks each and enough courses to fill you up, it cost just over 3,000 yen per person. The décor of the restaurant is filled with light wood and white stones lending a tranquil atmosphere in an otherwise lively Friday night environment. Sora no Niwa is located just a few minutes away from Ebisu station from the East Exit. For a far more detailed review and specific directions, click here.
It was great to see Gustav. We relived the gulag-like conditions of the weight room back at our university and empathized with each other over our stalled PhDs. Spending the evening with him rekindled the calm that I used to cultivate many years ago. And it seems to have spread to his little brother, who at 19, was mature beyond his years. Like Gustav, Magnus engaged in sincere conversation, asking thoughtful questions. And he has already adopted, in one day, the frequent bowing and thanking that is part of Japanese society.
Currently, Gustav works as a chaplain in a prison, while studying to become a Lutheran pastor. Next time I see him I’ll have to ask him how he reconciles his Buddhist training with his aspirations to become a Christian minister. Maybe I’ll give him the full Quilting Sword treatment.